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To Love and Protect Each Other — From Bigotry

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Jay Deitcher | Longreads | September 2019 | 11 minutes (2,743 words)

After dating Annie for six years, it was no surprise to my family when we stomped the glass and jumped the broom in the same Albany, New York temple my parents were married in. Although we came from different backgrounds — I’m Ashkenazi Jewish, Annie’s Jamaican and Nigerian — my relatives fell for her as hard as I had. She visited my 102-year-old Aunt Marion in the nursing home, could cook a mean brisket (with a dash of jerk seasoning), and chose Judaism, eventually speaking better Hebrew than me. After Annie inspired me to quit smoking, she became my parents’ hero. She upgraded me.

Having witnessed anti-Semitism in the black community and racism coming from Jews, Annie and I made a contract: we’d protect one another. When her African-American friends referred to me as a “good Jew” — as if I were an anomaly — she said something. After the Ashkenazi guy greeted Annie in our temple lobby with a “Welcome, can I help you?” — watching her purse, as if she were going to shoot the place up — I said something, too. I attempted to show wrongdoers their errors, while Annie was an advocate of confrontation followed by ghosting the offender.

Weeks after our wedding, Annie and I went to an Italian spot for lunch with my dad and his friend Bill. Over the decades, Bill was my dad’s go-to fix-it man — initially helping around the house, later becoming one of my father’s closest non-Jewish buddies, one of his confidants. Bill had given us $300 — the most generous gift we received from someone who wasn’t related.

Over lunch, Bill shared his own family milestones, but while waiting for the leftovers to be boxed he dropped the N-bomb, over and over. “They call themselves it, why shouldn’t I?” he asked, smiling, looking directly at my wife. “I call a spade a spade.”

Annie’s eyes slit into tense pockets of rage. Her mouth twisted. Bill didn’t notice or care. Annie wasn’t only mad at Bill, who’d exposed his true self. It was my dad and I who were disappointing failures. A tension began forming between Annie and my father and me. With every word Bill uttered, it grew.
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